Sunday, November 22, 2009

Picking Stevie Wonder's Pocket


Woke up early this morning, and instead of starting in on some chores I have on my honey-do list, I decided to watch a full-ring training video (hey, there are priorities in life, and then there are Priorities, right?).

Anyway, the video is a full-ring $50 NL session titled "to nit or not to nit." The instructor basically plays a very cautious, ABC-style game with a lot of c-betting in position and a lot of folding OOP. Pretty standard stuff, really, but the instructor said something about late position stealing that got me thinking.

The session was four tables of $.25/.50 NL, which means that the the blinds are $.75. To me, this seems like a reasonable amount of money to pick up whenever it's folded to you in LP, which implies a relatively big stealing range. In other words, steal the blinds whenever you get a chance from the button or cut-off. Most video instructors encourage a wide-range of stealing, as it is a high-percentage play that essentially allows you to get the next lap for free.

Well, in this video, the instructor starts off by saying he doesn't like the term "stealing." Instead, he says he like to think of LP open-raises as "an opportunity to build a pot in position" with a playable hand. The idea in NL, he said, is not just to pick up the blinds, but to stack off other players. Position is one of the most important factors in deciding who wins any particular hand, and when you have the button you have a big advantage, and you should take advantage of that fact. Yes, if the blinds fold then you're pleased with the result (I liken it to that old stock market trading adage: any profit is good profit). But, according to this particular pro, picking up the blinds is not really the main goal. It's a fine benefit, for sure, but it's not the real purpose of raising. The reason you raise is to build a pot in position and then take a big chunk of the opp's stack when he doesn't relinquish his blinds. Seventy-five cents is fine to add to your stack, but you really want the $50 he has sitting in front of him. Position is power, and when you steal and get called, you're guaranteed to have position throughout the rest of the hand.

This is reason, says the instructor, that you don't want to steal with any old crap hand. You need something that you can work with post-flop when the blinds defend. The range he gives for LP opens is: any two pair, any two paint cards, nearly all suited connectors, the bigger one-gapped SCs, and any suited ace, which is something like just 25% or so of your hands. This particular instructor isn't raising hands like A8o, non-suited connectors, or small gapped connectors. He says the reason is that when he gets called with these hands it's less likely he'll stack off the other player. He says he gives up some "free money" in terms of pure blinds steals, but he makes up for it when he gets called.

Now, I'm not sure I completely buy into this approach. For instance, a better strategy (I think) is to open-raise with a wider range (e.g., any ace, K9+, Q8+, one-gap SCs, 78o+, etc), but divide your range into two parts: 1) hands that fit the instructor's range, and that you don't mind the blinds defending against; and 2) the rest of the hands in your range, where you will shut it down if you get resistance. It seems to me that this is the best of both worlds; you pick up more "free" money in pure steals, and you also get to build a pot in position with stronger hands when the blinds defend. (Of course you need to adjust your LP open raising range in any case depending upon the characteristics of the OPP; e.g., if the blinds are super-nits, you can open a much wider range; or if the blinds are prone to defending, you need to tighten up somewhat.)

More pondering is required...

All-in for now...
-Bug

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